This vignette is an apology from a gaming addict to their family; as per stage 5 of the addiction program.  

15th April 2017

Jenny,

I am progressing through the program.  I’m at stage 5 now, which tells me to make an amends.  This feels hard.  It is an acknowledgement, a validation that after all that happened, it was me that was wrong.

I’m writing this to say sorry.  Sorry for all the times I was there but not ‘there’.  Sorry for all the times you had to pick things up and deal with the kids and take care of everything.  But I also want to show a little of what it’s like, what happened in my head to get me there.  This isn’t to excuse what I did; I just hope somehow it can help you understand what happened to me.

It started because I had time to fill.  I picked up the tablet out of idle curiosity, remembering a game I played when I was young.  When you played it you were a god.  Capable of anything – war, scientific advancement, mapping the evolution of your very own society; be it an egalitarian democracy or a totalitarian autocracy.  You could build it.  You can be anyone from history, Churchill, Alexander the Great or Gengis Kahn.

In my first game I won easily, so I upped the difficulty setting and got pasted.  I was Caesar and I got my ass handed back to me by Ghandi.  The irony.  Ghandi assembled his forces.  Catapults, mounted horse and bomber units smashed my fledgling empire back to the stone age from where it had come. That wouldn’t do at all.

The days stretched out blank.  I was still between jobs.  No work was coming.  No emails, no calls.  My friends were out at work and I looked for things to do.  You were at work; my fingers itched to do something, my mind reached out for something, anything to do.  I took the tablet into a corner and plugged in.

How would I beat them?  How would I beat them all?  I invested in democracy.  I became the Greeks.  Blonde and muscled Alexander.  I learnt to furrow the investment in earlier – get three cities established quickly – Athens, Delphi and Alexandria.  I hastened research into the stone age technologies – alphabet, bronze working, masonry, then literacy and currency.  All the things I needed to get established.

There wasn’t enough time.  There was never enough time.  I would put down the tablet.  Go to school, get the kids.  When you came home I would go to the study, look at an empty inbox for a while, we’d cook some food, do bed time and then I’d seek out the tablet again.  But you know this – you’d see me in my corner, buried in the game.  Fill the time that used to be productive, when before I was making things, now I dream of conquest.

I beat everyone, expanded my influence.  Built wonders of the world; the oracle of Delphi; the pyramids, the colossus.  My people grew cultured.  I moved to assert myself, learning how to make gunpowder and chivalry and used my knights and riflemen to contain my neighbours; the Aztecs, the Germans, the Egyptians and the Spanish.  As soon as they tried to spread, I oppressed them with the threats of my growing power.

Suddenly it was night.  The last time I remembered looking at the TV, there’d been a cooking program on; all I remember is the washed out blue filter making the food look grey.  But now it was off and I was alone in the dark with the tablet.  It was low on power so I had to twist around in the chair we’d bought when my wife was pregnant with out first.  I had a crick in my neck and it was gone 2am.  You were sleeping. I dreamt of a million different impulse decisions.  Move the galley right; build an aqueduct; save the money/spend the money.

The next day was a school day.  I didn’t make breakfast. I remember you all shouting goodbye. I got up at 11 and ate waffles straight out of the pack and drank instant coffee.  I panicked for a while.  I couldn’t find the tablet.  I unearthed all the things, the Saturday newspapers I hadn’t read.  The kids toys scattered around, the blocks, the lego, dolls and car all scattered around my outline.  I found it under a pile of unopened mail from the bank.

The game was advancing now.  I was growing.  I knew how to get the fastest amount of scientific advancement before any rival.  The Greeks had half price libraries and a democracy, meaning they had the most money and the most science.  Also, I’d learnt, if I configured the game in an increasingly tight manner I could influence the circumstances that most accelerated my success.  Was this cheating?  I didn’t care.  It showed to me a process of beating them all my competitors the virtual English, Americans, Russians and Chinese.  I could set it so I could learn everything configure everything and grow everything before all my rivals.  I would spend my money fast, then when I’d spent it; I’d send my spies to steal me more from my competitors.

It was one of those afternoons when you came home from work.  I still wasn’t dressed.   I remember the argument.

‘You’re supposed to be getting the kids?’

‘No I’m not, its Tuesday?’

‘It’s Wednesday!  Why do you think I’ve been at work!’  You looked down at the tablet – ‘Have you been on that all day?’

‘What?  No!’

‘Jesus, you’re not even dressed!’

‘I…I’ve not felt too good today.’

I remember you blue eyes misting.  ‘That’s because you didn’t go to bed till 2am!  Dammit Craig, you need to stop this!’  You shouted at me and took the tablet, my reflexes were slow. I tried to snatch it back but you ran into the kitchen.

‘Get yourself dressed and go and get the kids!’

The school.  The school.  Same as ever, but somehow muted.  Toned down, the enthusiastic mothers in happy gaggles; the tired, out of place fathers standing to the sides alone.  I took my place.  The wind stung my eyes.  Everything made me squint.  It was too bright, too noisy.  I looked around the schoolyard; the pictures of children, the climbing frame and the sandpit.  So much detail alive with life and promise, yet it was inert.  It was just pictures, it was just information that didn’t help me do what I wanted so it was irrelevant, it was something to get through as quickly as possible.  Why wouldn’t the teachers just hurry up and let the kids out already?  I had things to do.  I was poised to sack Constantinople.  Didn’t they understand; I was on the cusp of a full house – economic, cultural, scientific and cultural victory.

‘Hi Dad,’  It was James, ‘Miss Fitchett wants to see you.’

‘What did you do now?’  I sighed.

‘We just wanted to show you how well James was doing.’  The woman explained, her eyes were creased from years in the job, yet her smile seemed genuine.

She showed me a wall, they children all were in different zones, the boy was moving from bronze to silver.

‘If he keeps at his reading, he’ll be on Silver by the end of the week.  We’ve really noticed him trying harder this term.’

I smiled.  My wife was spending more time in their room.  Reading to them more and more as I stayed downstairs with the tablet.

‘Great’ I smiled and ruffled James’ hair in some vaguely patriarchal manner that I remembered my own father doing to me.  She was still standing there, expecting me to say something more; but I didn’t know what else – you normally handled these kind of things.

‘What are the rules for this?’  I asked, gesturing at the board.

Miss Fitchett explained.  ‘Each child does different challenges and earns different points based on their abilities – James is breaking into silver challenges, he’s…’

‘Are there gold challenges?’  I asked, walking to the gold section. There wasn’t anyone else’s name there yet.

‘Yes, but they’re generally very advanced.’

‘So how many silvers is a gold worth?’  I asked.

James blushed as I asked more and more questions.  In the end, Miss Fitchett stopped talking about the stickers and kept repeating how pleased they were with James.  ‘Yeah it’s great, but wouldn’t it be better if he did more golds, that way he’d win quicker.’

Miss Fitchett’s smile lost its warmth ‘That’s not really the point.’ She said.

James didn’t start crying until we’d met Daisy.  She asked him what was wrong and put her arm around him.  They walked ahead of me to the car.

‘You shouldn’t be so embarrassing Daddy…and you were late!’

‘I know sweetheart and Daddy’s sorry OK.’

I don’t know how long this went on for.  There seemed like there were many days where I was late and we argued.  But it’s like this, until the point that you left and you weren’t there for a week and that’s all I did, that’s how it happened.  I cycled, around and around in my head.  Trying, trying all the time to make it perfect – all the time questing for the perfect win and when I did it, when I had that perfect moment, I was happy.  I looked up I shouted.  It was 4 am and the house was empty.  The TV had gone onto standby and an empty pizza box was on the table.  Everything around me was a sea of chaos.  Nothing but chaos yet there was only silence in the house.

Everything was completely still, there was no life, no other contact.  No one to tell about my achievement.  But then, when I looked at it on the tablet – the score, my high score, the highest score of all time, was at the top.  I photographed it. Who could I show it to?  But in a fleet of instant it was gone, a teenager from Korea overtook me.  How could it be?  I was the best. How could it come and go so quickly…

And it had and no-one cared.  Not even the people who used to care. You were gone and it was only then that I saw that it was me that had made you go.

I know this won’t fix things, but I’m trying.  I admit to my problem and I’m getting help.  I hope this will help amend some of the times that I ignored you or sat there grunting in the darkness while you watched our lives pass by.

I love you

Craig.

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